Senior Fiction Workshop

Jan 2013

He's a really great professor. He may seem distant when you have your first meeting with him to discuss your writing, but don't be discouraged by this! If you show him (with your edits) that you are interested in writing, and working hard at it, he will be a totally different person. He wants to see that you have interest, and then he really opens up. I knew from the first class that I was going to love this guy. He talks about what you're trying to accomplish in the class, and everything he has you do is nothing short of productive for your writing. I took a senior fiction workshop with him, and he did not ask us to do anything we didn't deem productive for our writing, like making a little portfolio of final works. The class really was about us improving. He's a great guy, and certainly undervalued at Columbia. He is one person whose writing talent actually transfers over into his teaching ability, something that cannot be said of all prolific writers at Columbia.

Apr 2012

Wow, Sonya does not have enough reviews, so I'd like to throw in a couple words. She is a really great workshop guide. Even though I can't see myself wanting to talk to her much outside of class and her personality is intense, her input is incredibly astute and helpful. Out of all the creative writing professors I've worked with, she was the one who was most able to understand a writer's vision of a project and how to critique the intended goals. Everyone aims at this, but many professors let their opinions on writing get in the way. Sonya was very strict about avoiding this. As someone who writes fantasy, this made the class a much more healthy environment to deal with sharing a different genre with the class. Her input helped shape the discourse in a really constructive way, and I ended up getting a lot of knowledge about my own writing and goals over the duration of the course.

Dec 2009

I've been wrestling with this review since pretty much the first day of class and really even now, the only way to go about it is to compartmentalize. Rebecca as a Critical Reader Bloody Brilliant. This is the first person whose doorbell I would ring with a first-draft manuscript for her to shred through. When she's on, she is ON. Her comments, suggestions, and references are some of the best I've gotten from the department. Her reading of your stories is extremely thorough (with suggestions and criticism on the larger plot as well as matters of sentence structure and perspective) and she'll effectively use student stories as a jumping off points to speak of greater techniques and red lights writers should be aware of when creating. She essentially voices in really simplistic (borderline remedial) fashion all of those things you've noticed in great stories but can never put your finger on. Rebecca as a Person Caring and approachable. I genuinely looked forward to one-on-one sessions with her. Rebecca as a Class Presence The woman is also seven feet past the cuckoo's nest alright. Some call it quirky, others will say environmentally aware, I will settle for "hippie" (though I know that my usage of the label in this case displeases at least one friend). She's really (but really) into natural products, alternative healing methods, sunshine and get the idea. And hey, that's cool. Variety is the spice of life and we whatnot but she tends to use class time as a forum for these matters. As in passing out handouts, painstakingly going over them. It got brutal fast. Even more so during the first 3 weeks where we would spend 40 minutes going over that stuff and then have to rush through people's submission. That was just annoying. In the end I can't recommend or warn against this class or Rebecca. They are what they are. It's up to you to decide if that particular style clicks with you. It might be just what you need or you might seat there grinding your teeth and savoring the thought of biting into an MSG-ladden burger as soon as the class ends just because.

Oct 2009

I totally disagree with the most recent comment about Rebecca. The review sounds like a disgruntled classmate who (A) received a B+ and missed cum laude honors or (B) who typically reads a peer’s story the day (or if I’m giving him/her the benefit of the doubt, the night before) the submission is to be workshopped. This classmate’s handwritten comments on the story are minimal and the typed comments are very generic. I know we all have heavy course loads and are watching our GPAs like a fat girl watching calories, but let’s be objective in our criticisms and remember that learning is a reciprocal process. If you think you are going to write a masterpiece the night before and assume you deserve an “A”, wake up! It may have worked in high school but we are in the big leagues now. Writing is about re-writing. First of all, Rebecca cares about her students. She may be quirky but many gifted people are. She has probably read many more literature books and has been published more often than most undergraduates in the creative writing program. She has studied under authors who are highly notable including a Pulitzer Prize winning author. Her comments are insightful, encouraging and she offers hope to your prospective writing career. She even offers to read your work outside of your class assignments. Unfortunately, some of us here have encountered a few tenured professors who outside of their allotted office hours and lectures, wouldn’t share a walk across campus if you told them you had 30 days to live. Rebecca is very gracious with her time and experience. Take her while she is here and ask a thousand questions. She’s young, she’s bright, witty and an asset to CU’s writing program. For my money, I got a great return on my investment.

May 2009

The most challenging questions Rebecca would ask were, "What were your favorite parts?" and "What is the story about?" We would spend the first 20-30 minutes of class talking about our weekends or a tangentially related literary event, leaving about 25-40 minutes per story being workshopped. We would spend the first fifteen minutes of that time bickering over what section was our favorite, and proceed to have a vote, so the author could read it aloud. With 10-25 minutes remaining for the workshop, Rebecca strongly discouraged critical examination of the piece, but instead encouraged the picking out of favorite lines, etc. On the occasion that a submitted story was not to Prof. Curtis' taste, she would lecture for 10 or more minutes on why a particular aspect of a story was terrible, though she would not encourage other students to weigh in, thereby not only defeating the "philosophy" of the class ("not to hurt anyone's feelings") but also shattering any objectivity as her rants would almost always be personal and without basis in the text itself. On one such occasion she believed a student to have relied on stereotypes for his characters, and after stating this, proceeded to "back up" this claim by giving the following example: "Let's say I wanted to write about a kind of person I know very little about, for example, old Hispanic men. I might rely on certain stereotypes to do this, because they'd be the first thing to come to my mind." She proceeded to spend ten minutes listing every stereotype of Hispanic men she could think of, including their sitting outside drinking "cervezas," eating "plant-an-yos," playing the "ban-yo" ("You know, the banjo?"), and admonishing their daughters for being promiscuous. Her suggested solution was to retain these stereotypes, but to throw a curveball at the reader by replacing the subject, Hispanic men, with their opposite...Asian women. In thinking up this worst possible way a writer might rely on stereotypes, she achieved her goal of indirectly telling her student that he had done the same, but without basing her critique in the text at all, and by making her critique personal rather than constructive or objective. Unfortunately, as of now, Rebecca is the only instructor for the Senior Fiction Workshop. I don't know what to tell you. She makes the course a waste of time, but you will get deadlines and page-long feedback write-ups from each of your peers, which is always a good 60% of a workshop's value. The most important thing is probably to encourage the Writing Department to replace her with one of their other, much stronger instructors. I was continually baffled that she had a position at CC's department but even moreso that she had one at the School of the Arts. Speak up--I will! So many other great writers would make much better instructors. This was a huge disappointment from such a great department.